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Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords]

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 28 January 2010

Further consideration of Bill, as amended.

In keeping with the previous debate on these Bills, it will be for the convenience of the House if certain amendments relating to the Manchester City Council Bill [Lords] be debated together with those relating to the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords].

Amendment proposed (21 January): 4—(Mr. Chope.)

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

With this we are taking amendments 5 and 6 to the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords] and amendments 6, 7 and 8 to the Manchester City Council Bill [Lords].

We were debating this amendment a week ago and I was in the process of summing up the debate. I am pleased to say that since I sat down last week an important conversation has taken place between myself, Bournemouth borough council and Manchester city council about these two Bills. What has effectively come out of that conversation is that Bournemouth borough council and Manchester city council realise that the Bills go far too far and they are prepared to concede a series of significant and substantial amendments and concessions.

Although I know there will still be people, particularly in the pedlar community, who think that those concessions do not go far enough, I have taken the view that as I am in a position of relative weakness—as reflected in the votes on these issues, where I rarely got more than a dozen of my Back-Bench colleagues to support the case I put forward—reaching a compromise that involves significant concessions, which could of course have been made much earlier or even several years ago, is a worthwhile achievement. I commend the flexibility of both Bournemouth borough council and Manchester city council in agreeing to those concessions, even at this late stage. One can imagine that people become rather entrenched and say, “If I give ground now, I shall look like a weakling.”

I think that my hon. Friend thinks I am a weakling for having conceded so much on the previous two Bills.

No, of course I do not think that. I am just a humble spear-carrier in the pedlar campaign and my hon. Friend is the general. I merely want a reassurance that, having obtained these concessions, he can convince us that pedlary as we have understood it since 1871 will carry on. He has unfurled the banner on behalf of a community who had no other support. Before we withdraw from our position, we want the reassurance of our hon. Friend and nobody else.

I believe that lawful pedlary has now been recognised across the House as something worth while that should be allowed to continue. The Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs is now conducting a consultation on possible changes. My hon. Friend should look at that consultation to see whether he wishes to make a submission to it.

I want to add a sense of reality to what my hon. Friend is saying. The introduction of these Bills was never designed to challenge genuine pedlars, but to put the relationship between genuine pedlars and street traders into perspective. Illegal pedlars were giving a bad name to the genuine pedlars whom my hon. Friend and his entourage have been trying to support, and I want to make it very clear that we had the genuine pedlars in mind when drafting the Bill.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has referred to what he describes as my “entourage”, so perhaps this is the moment for me to thank all those who have assiduously supported these debates over the past months and years. We can now claim that we have been able to concentrate minds and achieve significant concessions.

This is the lead Bill, and I believe that what has come out of our debates is that the Government set up an inquiry, which they were never going to do otherwise. They then went out to consultation, and have now done so again. We are promised that, when the consultation’s results are known in due course, there will be a prospect of further, national legislation.

I do not know what will happen with that, but the best thing is that we are going to get a code of guidance. A draft code has been published with the consultation: if that were widely disseminated, it would bring an enormous amount of clarity to the issue, both for pedlars and those who must enforce the law as it stands.

We will come in due course to the amendments that have been accepted. Because of the agreement that has been reached and the concessions that have been made, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

With this, we are taking amendments 33 to 42, 44 to 47, 49 to 55 and 57 to 70 to the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords], and amendments 35, 36 to 45, 47 to 50, 52 to 58 and 60 to 73 to the Manchester City Council Bill [Lords].

These groups of amendments deal with the powers that the Bills give to authorised officers and police officers to seize goods. Previous private Bills dealing with street trading have granted powers of seizure, but for the first time the Bills as currently drafted allow a power to be exercised not just when there is a reasonable belief that an offence has been committed, but when there is “a reasonable suspicion” that an offence has been committed.

Without going into great detail, a case decided in the House of Lords shows that the meaning of “a reasonable suspicion” effectively means that the person exercising that view has absolute discretion in the matter. A similar power under terrorism legislation is now being used to arrest people. Although I am not going to get into that, I am sure that, even in their most concerned moments, my hon. Friends the Members for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) and for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill) would never have wanted to equate unlawful street traders with terrorists.

Does my hon. Friend remember the sus laws that obtained when we were young barristers together? There was a great campaign to remove them because it was felt that they gave the police far too much power to arrest people, often from ethnic minorities, simply on suspicion. Can he assure me that we are in no way creating powers parallel to the old-fashioned sus laws that we swept away in the late 1980s?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which is why I tabled the amendments and why I am delighted that amendments 32, 33, 44, 45, 49, 50, 51, 55, which deals with the related subject of the recovery of storage costs, and 69, which deals with the payment of compensation on acquittal, have been accepted by the Bill’s promoters. Those amendments are an important package that mean there will be less reason for pedlars and street traders to think they are an oppressed minority against which prejudiced people can exercise draconian powers. My hon. Friend is quite right to remind us of the old sus laws. If people, on mere grounds of suspicion, arrest others or take away their goods, it creates an unpleasant atmosphere, which is why I am enthusiastic about this group of amendments and why I am delighted that at this late stage Bournemouth and, indeed, Manchester are prepared to accept my proposals.

I do not wish to detain the House any longer than is necessary. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for whittling the 81 amendments he introduced last week down to a mere 14, which he and I are both happy to add to the Bill. For the record, may I confirm that they include amendments 32, 33, 44, 45, 49, 50, 51, 55 and 69? With that, I shall conclude, as I would like to make progress so that we can clear this final hurdle.

The group of amendments on the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill parallels a similar group of amendments to the Manchester City Council Bill, which we shall discuss later. In this common debate, however, it would probably be helpful if I put on the record, as the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) has done for the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, the fact that the amendments the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has tabled to the Manchester City Council Bill are acceptable to the city of Manchester.

It may be helpful for the hon. Gentleman’s future career as the champion—indeed, the general—of the pedlars campaign if I tell him that Manchester is not necessarily happy with the amendments. He has gained concessions from the city of Manchester—and, I think, from the town of Bournemouth—through parliamentary exchanges, because that is how the business of the House is conducted and how the legislation of the nation is made: in the spirit of seeking acceptable compromises. It is not necessarily about allowing anyone to think they have got what they want, but about allowing us all to think that we can make progress in controlling the activities of non-legitimate pedlars, while making sure, hopefully, that there is space for legitimate pedlars to trade.

The hon. Gentleman can put in his election manifesto the fact that Government Members congratulated him on his campaign. He has certainly achieved something in securing amendments to the Bills. With that, may I, too, say that I am happy to support his amendments to the Manchester City Council Bill?

I shall respond briefly to the generous comments of hon. Members. It is a pity that we have had to deal with this in such a formal way.

I am going to ask my hon. Friend a question that I was going to ask the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd). Why, considering that so many hours have been spent on debate in the House, does my hon. Friend think it has taken so long to secure basic, sensible concessions? If they had been granted many months, if not years, ago, the Bills would be on the statute book by now. Does he think there are any lessons to be learned for authorities considering similar Bills with similar amendments?

The lessons that Leeds and Reading learned when they introduced their Bills was that if a reasonable concession could be made to enable them to make progress, it was probably sensible to make it. It is a pity that the two Bills we are considering were introduced in the other place, and were then subject to quite a lot of comment there. They were the subject of petitions in the House, and proceeded to an opposed Bill Committee. That Committee imposed a number of amendments on clause 5 which, although they are far from perfect, we discussed last Thursday. That process cost time and money—leading counsel was engaged. It would have been much better had there been some forum in which we could have tried to find a way through.

“Better late than never” is a good expression. We are where we are, but as I said to a wider audience on the radio programme last week, somebody who is representing a minority opinion in the House has relatively little ability to influence things, other than by appealing for reason and using the weapon of delay. I am grateful to my hon. Friends for facilitating the concentrating of minds by making it clear that we were prepared to deploy the weapon of parliamentary delay.

My hon. Friend makes an important constitutional point. Better Bills are emerging because it is still possible for private Members to delay Bills and have some influence. That does not happen with Government Bills at all. It happens in the United States Senate, for instance, which I have been reading about—

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows he is straying wide of the Bill. I therefore ask Mr. Christopher Chope to conclude his remarks.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) for his contribution, however wide-ranging it might be.

Peace has broken out. Everybody recognises there is no point in being cussed and intransigent. It was with sadness that I read the obituary of our late hon. Friend Robin Maxwell-Hyslop, which made it clear that he took cussedness to an extreme, but as a result of that, he was able to achieve change in the House that would not otherwise have been possible. He knew the procedures of the House inside out. My recommendation to anybody who enters the House after the next general election is that the first thing they should do is concentrate on procedure. Then they will be ably qualified as legislators in due course.

Amendment 32 agreed to.

Amendments made: 33, 44, 45, 49 to 51, 55 and 69.—(Mr. Chope.)

Amendment 75 would remove clause 4. The other amendments relate to clauses 10 to 14. Some would remove all those clauses in toto, and some are more modest, aiming to taking out the most toxic part of those clauses. I am delighted that, in an e-mail sent to me first thing this morning, the promoters of the two Bills expressed their agreement to amendments 75, 77, 78, 80 and 81, which would, in effect, remove clauses 10 to 14 from the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill and the equivalent clauses from the Manchester City Council Bill. Those clauses cover three full pages of the Bill’s 10 as printed. To remove three pages at one stroke represents pretty good progress as far as I am concerned, so I am very grateful to the Bills’ sponsors, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) and the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd), for conceding those amendments, which will result in a better and fairer Bill.

I am sure that it has not escaped your notice, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the consequence of removing clauses 10 to 14 is that the references to fixed penalties in clauses 7 and 9 will need to be amended in due course with technical and consequential amendments. We do not have such amendments on the amendment paper today, and it is not appropriate to try to move manuscript amendments, but I understand that it will be possible to make those consequential amendments when the Bills are considered in the other place.

The promoters of the Bill have also made it clear to me that, in clarifying the contents of the Bill, those amendments in the other place will include the amendment that I previously sought to make to clause 5 by adding to “another person” the phrase “trading with the authority of a pedlars’ certificate”, so that the provision is clearer. Everybody agrees that that is the intention of the clause, but it will be better when, in the House of Lords, it is technically amended to make that objective clear.

We have made enormous progress over a short space of time—since the early hours of this morning when my hard-working secretary said at five minutes past 8 that she had been in receipt of an e-mail. Since then I have been in discussions about the implications of the amendments. I have spoken to a significant pedlar, the agents for the promoters, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and the hon. Member for Manchester, Central, and I must put on the record that, notwithstanding these amendments, the pedlar to whom I spoke still feels that there is a venality in the Bills. However, I am sure that he would be the first to concede that we are making progress by removing these clauses.

I am delighted to see the hon. Gentleman in his place, and I am sorry that he was not here earlier for the Reading Borough Council Bill. However, I understand that a significant funeral service took place today in Reading, and that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson), from the other half of Reading, could not be present. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was at the same event, but I am happy to give way to him.

I can confirm that there was a tragic funeral, which both I and the hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) had to go to. I am delighted that the Reading Borough Council Bill’s passage has been eased and that an accommodation has been found, but many of us have spent an inordinate amount of our lives—which we will not get back again—on the objections of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). He appears to base a lot of what he says on a conversation with a single significant pedlar, so will he confirm the communications that he has had with the pedlar community as a whole? I am confused as to why we have had to spend so much time on these measures.

The significant pedlar to whom I spoke today is the pedlar who petitioned against these two Bills, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that I got my priorities right in speaking to that person first. However, I have actually spoken to quite a lot of pedlars. I shall not embarrass myself or the House by reading out the glowing tributes that I have received from various pedlars for the efforts that I have made on their behalf, but I must assure the hon. Gentleman that I have quite a lot of contacts in the pedlar community.

Indeed, one of the good things that has come out of this whole series of Bills is that pedlars are now much better organised. They have their own website—I think it is called That means that the pedlar community is now able to keep in contact with what is happening. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is complaining that I am taking too long to respond to his intervention, for which I apologise. Of course, he will know that some pedlars have watches all the way up their arm and can offer them for sale.

Order. The hon. Gentleman was helped by the fact that I was somewhat distracted; he has therefore been given more leeway than he would otherwise have had. I am sure that he will now wish to concentrate his remarks on the group of amendments under consideration.

I am most grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your customary indulgence. I will say no more than I have already said. I commend this major group of amendments to the House.

Amendment 75 agreed to.

Amendments Made: 77, 78, 80 and 81—(Mr. Chope)

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am surprised to be standing here to open this Third Reading debate on the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, given that it has taken longer than the gestation period of an elephant to get to this point, but I am delighted that we have finally been able to reach a series of compromises with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) in ensuring that we can better regulate our town centres.

As we have heard, this is one of a series of Bills that have come through the House. We have already debated the Reading, Nottingham and Canterbury Bills, Manchester is coming up, and ahead of us are Medway, Leicester, London and Liverpool, among others. All those borough and city councils have sought the leave of this place in order to create the legislation that they believe is required better to regulate town centres. Although some amendments have been made, I hope that the Government will recognise that there is a sense of urgency for national legislation. We need to ensure that more time is not wasted, with councils spending huge sums of money to gain the attention of this House in order to create similar legislation. I am afraid that, until that national legislation comes along, I will support any individual council wishing better to regulate its town centre.

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that his council tax payers, like mine in Reading, welcome the legislation but question how much of their money has had to be spent on something that could have been resolved very easily by the Government if they had put a Bill before the House? This is not an ideal way to go about solving a comparatively simple problem, is it?

I firmly agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are questions to be raised on a number of levels about how private Members’ Bills of this nature—[Hon. Members: “Private Bills.”] Well, it is the private Members’ Bill process—

Order. This is a private Bill rather than a private Member’s Bill. I hope, in any case, that the hon. Gentleman will confine his remarks to its Third Reading.

I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is certainly the case.

I hope that the Minister will give us a little more detail about where things will go in future, rather than in due course, which is rather woolly terminology. I am pleased that legislation first written in 1871, in the shape of the Pedlars Act, is being brought up to date, and that the people of Bournemouth will be able to benefit from that. A week ago, I was somewhat despondent, faced with 81 amendments that would have significantly changed the Bill to the point where it would have been worthless. They would have introduced a stationary capability for pedlars, carved up Bournemouth and restricted the times when the Bill would be allowed to operate. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making concessions on those points, and I hope that he understands that there have been concessions on the other side as well, which have allowed us to get to where we are today.

Without further delay, I move that the Third Reading be concluded, and look forward to the Bill’s becoming an Act of Parliament.

I would like to say two or three words. I am not sure who will celebrate the most this evening: my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and the peddling community, or my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), his council leader, Councillor Stephen McLoughlin and his council. At long last, in their struggle to get this Bill, they appear to have passed at least one major milestone.

I wish the Bill a fair wind. I hope that the other place will deal with it expeditiously and that we can get it on to the statute book before the general election.

I suspect that the full extent of my rhetorical exuberance in relation to these Bills was already expressed on previous Third Readings, and my view on them remains unchanged. I wish them Godspeed.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) for what he said. The Bournemouth and Manchester Bills will get their Third Readings, and will then go to the other place. I hope that those in the other place will find time for the technical consideration of the large number of amendments we have passed today, in addition to the amendment made to clause 5 by the Opposed Private Bill Committee.

I remain concerned about some of the detail in clause 5. I made comments about it, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) was supportive of those concerns last Thursday. Those comments remain valid, and I will have to see what happens in practice. Obviously, the amendments reflecting those concerns were voted down, and my amendment 74, which would have incorporated the best parts of the Reading Borough Council Bill and the Leeds City Council Bill, albeit modified slightly, was not acceptable to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East, to the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd), or to their respective councils. I cannot do anything about that; all I can do is argue from a position of numerical weakness, but I have the arguments on my side. We have reached a compromise.

It is a red letter day for my hon. Friend, given the amendments made. I appreciate that the Bills are not necessarily ideal, as he says, but I hope that he accepts that an honourable compromise has been reached, and that the Bills are now sufficiently amended to be worthy of some support.

Exactly; my hon. Friend is absolutely right. If I did not think that the compromise were right, I would not have accepted it. Once at the stage of forcing negotiation, it would be a foolish person who turned away from achieving a successful outcome, which is what we have achieved over the past few hours. I hope that the passage of the Bill deals with the consequences about which I was fearful: an adverse impact on the borough of Christchurch caused by a move of the “problem” from Bournemouth. I hope that the assurances of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East that that will not happen prove correct in practice, and that the burghers of Bournemouth think that they have had good value for money in investing in this exercise. I know that the process has been long and probably expensive for them, but I will not comment any further on that. As my hon. Friend rightly said, until we get a national framework there will be a dilemma for councils as to whether they wish to spend scarce council tax payers’ resources on such an exercise or whether they believe that the problem is not worth the cost of the remedy. That is the view that a lot of councils are taking. The councils in question have not taken that view, and one must respect them for that.

I support Third Reading and hope that the Bill reaches the statute book before the election, although of course it could have been carried over beyond the election under the private Bill procedure. I am not sure that everybody in Bournemouth understood that. Indeed, there was a bit in the local paper last week suggesting that I had talked out the Bill, but I could not do that under private Bill procedure. There was a three-hour slot and it came to an end. I happened to be on my feet at the end, but I was not talking it out. In that respect it is a very different procedure, as you and my hon. Friend know, Madam Deputy Speaker—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has explained to the readers of his local paper what has happened. Is he about to conclude his remarks?

I am indeed. Let it not be said or thought that I am in any way critical of the Daily Echo, which is the most outstanding newspaper in the country. However, sometimes the pressure on space means that there is not room for the full argument to be—

Order. There is not only pressure on space but sometimes pressure on time for business. We have more business to continue with. Is the hon. Gentleman concluding?

I agree with you absolutely, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I think it is almost a miracle that although we have a three-hour slot for this business this afternoon, it looks as though we will finish within one and a half hours.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.